Time management is the process of planning and organizing tasks or events. It is the exercise of conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially with a view to increasing effectiveness, efficiency or productivity. It has been an important aspect of business and project management for some time, but it is increasingly being applied to education and personal activities in our busy, time-conscious modern world. No less a figure than the influential management consultant and writer Peter F. Drucker once opined, “Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed”.
Time management as a business practice originated with time and motion studies, which in turn were an integration of the time studies of Frederick Taylor (the “father of scientific management”) and the motion studies of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth in the early 20th Century. This kind of business efficiency technique led to the imposition of standard times for tasks and, with the introduction of the assembly line technique of mass production, it became an essential business tool.
To some extent, attitudes towards time management and punctuality are culturally determined (see the section on Time in Different Cultures). For example, trains in some European and Asian cities are timed almost to the second, while trains in India may be a full day late with no serious repercussions. Compare the mañana attitude of Latin America with the uptight, finicky punctuality of English business practices. Rural attitudes towards time also tend to differ significantly from big city habits and expectations.
Time Management Techniques and Tools
Time can be managed by first estimating how much time a task should require, and when it must be completed, and then adjusting events that might otherwise interfere with its completion so that it can be completed in the appropriate amount of time. Because the time available for any activity is usually limited and of course cannot be stored, and because goals may be multiple and conflicting, it often involves the setting of priorities and the triage of tasks. For example, activities may be subjected to ABC analysis, where they are ranked and assigned to categories A (urgent and important), B (important but not urgent) and C (neither urgent nor important). It may also involve the creation and fostering of an environment conducive to time effectiveness, and the elimination of bad time habits such as procrastination.
The simplest time management aid is a task list or to-do list, a list of tasks to be completed, such as chores or steps toward completing a project. It is a kind of inventory tool, which serves as an alternative or supplement to memory. When one of the items on a task list is accomplished, the task is checked or crossed off. Task lists may be tiered (e.g. daily to-do lists abstracted from a more general or long-term one), or prioritized (e.g. tasks may be listed in order of importance, or the most unpleasant tasks may be listed first, etc), or they may be listed in hierarchies (e.g. tasks are split into sub-tasks, and even sub-subtasks).
Various time management tools are available to help with the process, common examples being computers, calendars and day planners. Time management software is available for more complex applications, which may include task hierarchies, filtering and ordering options, multiple user support, remote or online access, etc. Written timesheets and mechanical or electronic time clocks (or “punch clocks”) are also employed to record time worked in business contexts, as are time tracking software applications.
A sequence of events can be presented in text, tables, charts or timelines. The description of the items or events may include a timestamp (characters or encoded information identifying when a certain event occurred, usually giving date and time of day, and often accurate to within seconds). A sequence of events that includes the time along with place or location information is sometimes referred to as a world line, a concept borrowed from physics.
Other Time Management Concepts
Time use research is a developing field of study, and concerns how time is allocated across a number of activities, such as time spent at home, at work, shopping, travelling, etc. Some aspects of time use tend to be relatively stable over long periods of time, such as the amount of time spent traveling to work. Other aspects, though, have changed quite dramatically in recent years as new technologies, such as television, cellphones and the Internet, have created new opportunities to use time in different ways.
Time banking is a complementary money system developed in the 1980s that effectively uses time (i.e. an hour’s worth of any person’s labour) as a unit of currency, thus giving a more literal interpretation to the commonly-used phrase “time is money”, first coined by Benjamin Franklin as early as 1748. The idea is that time spent doing work that does not normally provide monetary benefits (e.g. mentoring children, caring for the elderly, being neighbourly, etc) earns “time” or “time dollars” that can then be spent to receive other services of different types. Time banks have been established in various countries around the world, but it has not become a mainstream phenomenon.
The time value of money is the idea in finance theory that money available at the present time is worth more than the same amount in the future due to its potential earning capacity. Additionally, because inflation will typically drive prices up, the “value” of the money will also reduce over time. So, provided there is an opportunity to earn interest on the funds, any amount of money is worth more the sooner it is received.
Polychronicity is a term that describes people who prefer to work on multiple activities at the same time, whether it be cooking while watching TV, texting while driving, etc. A polychronic person perceives time, at least to some extent, as a circle, a spiral line or a number of intersecting curves, rather than as linear, and they respond to this by multi-tasking or arranging tasks in a non-standard order. Monochronicity, on the other hand, describes people with a much more linear, clock- and schedule-driven approach to time. See the section on Time in Different Cultures for more discussion of polychronicity and monochronicity, and the whole study of chronemics (the study of the way that time is perceived and valued in individuals and cultures, particularly as regards non-verbal communication). Synchronicity is a related concept, first described by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung in the 1920s, where a person experiences two or more events as meaningfully related in some way, even though they are unlikely to be causally related.